USC Men's Basketball

ESPN analyst on South Carolina basketball: ‘They got a lot going for them that I like’

Preseason event helps connect fans with USC players

The University of South Carolina basketball teams kicked off the season with fans during a event at the Colonial Life Arena
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The University of South Carolina basketball teams kicked off the season with fans during a event at the Colonial Life Arena

The guest list for SEC men’s basketball media day on Wednesday is a good one.

Some examples:

South Carolina is sending to the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Birmingham Frank Martin and its experienced frontcourt of Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar.

Kentucky will be represented by John Calipari, intriguing Stanford transfer Reid Travis and versatile forward P.J. Washington.

Tennessee will have Grant Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year.

Vanderbilt will have Simi Shittu, the potential SEC Freshman of the Year.

The SEC Network will be providing live coverage from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. EST. Familiar faces that will appear then include Dari Nowkah, Peter Burns, Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, Andy Kennedy and Jimmy Dykes.

Ahead of it all, The State caught up with Dykes to help preview South Carolina’s season.

Question: During coverage of Kentucky’s Pro Day (on Oct. 7), you mentioned that you’ve taken more calls from NBA people about Chris Silva and Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford than any other SEC player. Can you expand on that? What are your exceptions for Silva this season?

Jimmy Dykes: He’s definitely going to be watched all year long, just like he was last year. And I think he gives himself a fighting chance every day because he fights every time he’s on the floor. That’s the first thing that jumps out about Chris Silva, how hard he plays and how consistent he is with his effort and his toughness. He just out-efforts most people on the floor.

I think that’s what gets him on the radar right now for NBA guys. They see him as a potential role player in that league that can be trusted to work hard every day and do whatever they ask him to do. I expect him to have a great senior year.

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Q: Do you think Chris can develop into a shooting threat from 15-18 feet? Do you think that skill is in him?

JD: I think it is. He’s 6-9, so that doesn’t equate to a center position in the NBA, although a lot of them now are playing small ball. But if you do that, then your center guy has to be able to step out and basically knock down 3s.

We’re going to see if Chris has expanded his game to that level. I’m sure right now Frank would just say, ‘Hey, how about 15 feet? Can you play at 15 feet?’ I think he only shot about 46 or 47 percent from the 2-point part of the floor last year. And that tells you he’s having to fight for a lot of baskets. That’s kind of a low percentage for a guy his size.

Not only would it help Chris, I think it helps South Carolina, obviously, if he can become a little bit more of a faceup threat – and not just be locked into the box and get down there and have to fight for every basket. I think that’s going to benefit Chris. It’s always going to benefit South Carolina.

Q: What are your expectations for South Carolina this season?

JD: They were probably just a couple wins last year from getting back to the (NCAA) tournament, and Frank’s got four starters back. Two of those guys started on a Final Four team.

What I like about South Carolina is I’m going to trust them in certain areas. I’m going to trust them to play hard, I’m going to trust them to fight and defend and rebound. And that’s a great starting point.

I think a lot of it has to do with the point guard play. They got to get better there. That’s no secret. I think the transfer from Georgetown (Tre Campbell) will probably get a lot of minutes to start with. And if he kind of solidifies that spot, I think that really helps that team. (Hassani) Gravett, he played the point last year out of necessity, but that’s not really who he is. He’s a good athlete and probably a little better off the ball.

I think (Justin) Minaya takes a step forward this year. I think Kotsar takes a big step forward this year.

Someone’s going to be picked 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 (in the SEC), somewhere in there. South Carolina will most likely be in that group. But man, they have a lot going for them that I like.

Q: Beyond Campbell, do you have a feel for the new guys? What are expectations for them?

JD: A.J. Lawson’s a kid I know the most about. I think he’s about 6-5 or 6-6. I think he could be a guy that gives you eight to 10 minutes at the point guard spot, if he had to. I think he can handle it; he’s got good size, he’s tough. He’s a young kid – I’m pretty sure he reclassified – but he’s played a lot of ball. He’s a good athlete. I think he can really run. And obviously he’ll be a good defender with that size. So I expect Lawson to probably get some minutes earlier than those other kids.

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But (Martin’s) got four good pieces there in Gravett, Minaya, Silva and Kotsar. That’s going to be the core of that group to carry them early.

Q: What did you like about Minaya last season and what do you think is his next step? Is he a guy who can average double figures in scoring this season?

JD: Yes. He was right at 7 points a game last year.

What I like about Justin Minaya is he was tough enough to earn 30 starts for Frank Martin as a freshman. That is not easy to do. Frank doesn’t just pass those starting assignments out 30 times because there’s no one else who can do it. He’s had to earn those starts.

I think he proved last year he can shoot it off the dribble, he can shoot it off the bounce. He’s a guy that can make 3s. I think he really embraces coaching, I think he studies the game. Last year, he never shrunk away from the moment. He was a kid in a grown man’s league last year, but he never backed down. I don’t see any reason in the world he’s not a double figure scorer this year. And they need him to be because they lost a couple offensive weapons.

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Q: Shooting is a big question mark for this team because it lost Frank Booker and his 85 3s from last year. Who do you expect to help fill the void there?

JD: I don’t know until I see them, but when you lose 85 3s, that’s a pretty good chunk off a team that didn’t shoot it great to begin with. I know (Felipe) Hasse’s gotten the reputation of being a shooter, so hopefully that’s where they’ve gotten better. Hopefully Minaya’s gotten better, Haase’s gotten better, maybe Gravett is a better shooter know that he’s off the ball a little bit.

I’m sure that’s a little bit of a, not a concern, but a question mark until they prove how good of shooters they really are.

Q: Maik Kotsar struggled last year to finish around the rim. You mentioned him taking a big step this year. What is that next step? How important is his value this year?

JD: He’s never played near the basket as a player. Growing up, he was a guard, more of a face-up finesse game. So he’s still learning how to use that big 6-10, 260-pound body that he has. He’s strong as an ox, and he’s got to use that strength to get some hard-fought baskets in the paint.

I think he can drive the ball. He’s a good driver. You can run offense through him. He’s a guy that could take a really big step this year. He’s just a junior, but he got a ton of experience on that Final Four run. If he makes 15-foot shots, sort of like Chris, that just really opens up South Carolina’s offense because both of those guys can sweep and drive and get themselves to the free throw line.

I think you’ll see Kotsar get a little more comfortable with his back to the basket this year and just kind of be a low-post presence for them in their offense.

South Carolina basketball’s Maik Kotsar reviews his 2017-18 season and what’s he’s working on this offseason.